Monday, 4 July 2011

A continuum between poetry and prose?

Sorry - this title looks like an essay question, and I mean it to be more of a discussion.  So here are my thoughts - I'm sure you will have others.

Yes, I know this blog is about publishing Gap Years, but these are waiting days - I have a couple of stories simmering, but nothing that drives me to the computer at sparrowfart; and so I have savoured the luxury of more time to read.

I stumbled across Findings, by Kathleen Jamie (published by Sort of Books in 2005).  She is a Scottish poet but this is not a poetry book.  Rather it is a collection of observations, from watching ospreys nesting in the mountains, to the necessities of finding a home for her great-grandmother, to meandering round a medical museum full of body-parts that make her cry.  So what, you might say - nothing there to send me rushing to the book.  Indeed, I'm struggling to find any sort of description that shows how special this book is.

I can only tell you that it is beautifully written.  Kathleen uses all her skills as a poet: her descriptions are lyrical, her reflections are tender, funny.  All her sentences balance.  Her word selections are sometimes surprising (I'd never thought of the feathers of sheep's wool caught in brambles before as 'dollops' - but, when they are soggy, that is exactly what they are.)  She has some wonderful metaphors - the cry of a peregrine is described  as 'like a turnstile pleading for oil.'

As she rambles up mountains she muses, about the survival of the corncrake, and the dialogue between humankind and the environment.  She suggests that we had lost the capacity to notice, to contemplate; the secularisation of the Sabbath has left us bereft of time  to nurture our thinking, our noticing of everything that is around us.  She tackles the subject gently, leaving it without answers - and me wondering how I would cope if I offered myself one day a week without radio, music, TV, computer. (Maybe another blog post there.)

Her skill - as I see it - lies in the tenacity of her noticing.  That, and her ability to describe what she sees using the most beautiful, appropriate, and compelling language - and overlap of poetry and prose.  Her writing refuses to comply with the demands of genre but is such a joy to read.


  1. Sounds like Kathleen still has that ability to stand and stare. Something most of us have lost in this mad world.
    A day without technology would be a challenge - certainly for my teenagers!

  2. I so envy Kathleen's capacity to notice things - and have made good resolutions to try harder! Will follow my efforts in another post, in due course.